“[T]he sky it seemed would pour down”, not “stinking pitch”, but rather light rain on a New York Thursday evening at Shakespeare in the Park. The production was The Tempest and the rain was very fitting to an evening among Prospero’s conjuring schemes. Especially since this is a play that opens on a rather extraordinary day involving, not just a storm, but a tempest; a.k.a. a violent commotion, uproar, or disturbance.
Years spent banished on an island, and will to create an enchanted life for his daughter, have afforded the usurped Duke, Prospero (Sam Waterston), time and motivation to master a new set of laws. The sorcerous power that he has acquired allows him to manipulate an airy spirit Ariel (Chris Perfetti) to create the tempest. I found the intelligence and gentleness that Perfetti afforded the spirit to be interesting – hard not to love – like breathing air – taken for granted most of the time until there is a realization of the need to breathe.
Actual fireflies lit up here and there unexpectedly setting an appropriate otherworldly ambiance as Prospero made his way across the stage. The personalization and belief in what he was saying made Waterston’s Prospero clear and heart-felt in his words and sentiments. However, in this day and age it is difficult not to question whether his manipulations are fair and paternalism appropriate?
As Prospero’s shipwrecked royal relatives and crew make their way onto the island we get a sense that their jewelled crowns, ornamented coats and imperial protocols are out of place. Ariel’s soft music, the shifting winds and Prospero’s influence trump the swords & treasures from afar setting their bearers into induced sleeping states.
The more fitting presence on the island is Caliban’s (Louis Cancelmi). Cancelmi’s Caliban was very light on his feet, yet grounded and it was fun to watch how responsive he was to the people around him. The physical mangling of his body gave him an obvious obstacle to battle as he peered out of his ‘otherness’ at the beings around him testing and discovering how they fit into his life.
Prince Ferdinand (Rodney Richardson) finds that he is wandering alone (as a young prince rarely does) and is compelled to set his eyes upon the “peerless” Miranda (Francesca Carpanini). At the same time, Miranda, a youth who is used to being alone and has ignorantly learned to find joy without friendship discovers the first male peer that she’s ever seen… and been attracted to! Supervising this union is a happy father, Prospero, who knows their marriage will also tie his daughter back to her homeland and provide for her when he’s gone. Early on in the play he explains to Miranda,
O, a cherubim
Thou wast that did preserve me. Thou didst smile.
Infused with a fortitude from heaven,
When I have deck’d the sea with drops full salt,
Under my burthen groan’d; which raised in me
An undergoing stomach, to bear up
Against what should ensue.
Good ‘Ol Bill and the power of his language. I found myself getting emotional listening to Prospero’s reasons as to why he’s wielded every type of power he could – mastering the slave Caliban, conjuring spirits, and manipulating people. Being a female in my twenties – I can’t say I can speak for men in their later years… but I am human, I have received parental love and have felt protective over younger family members and children. It was in his parental sentiments towards his ‘cherubim’ that I heard the justification for his actions. I could feel him playing the love. If he could find a way to have his daughter taken care of – then he would forgive his brother, set slaves free, give up his own mysterious powers.
So are Prospero’s manipulations fair – NO – but maybe that is not the point of this story. History shows us life has been unfair for many. The Tempest magnifies the distribution of light and shade in Prospero’s character. It is compelling to watch a story about what people do when life has been unfair, how they perceive their power, how they interact with others around them and to wonder about why? The justification for Prospero’s wielding powers is the restoration of peace amongst his homeland by the uniting of his daughter, Miranda, and Prince Ferdinand. After all – it is a Shakespeare comedy. By the time Prospero offers his epilogue the storm was struck down making way for the stage lights to meet trees as a backdrop.
The actors in this production set an example for me to be inspired by:
Work from the self.
Find the obstacles.
Play the love.
Mine for the truth.
Personalize the text.
Connect to what the other players have to offer.
Tell the story.
Witnessing a story unfold about universal powers and themes (love & family) unfold in Central Park surrounded by earthly elements definitely is “such stuff as [my] dreams are made on”.